Exactly when in the early modern era Native Americans began exchanging animal furs with Europeans for European-made goods is uncertain. What is fairly certain, even though they left
no written evidence of having done so, is that the first Europeans to conduct such trade during the modern period were fishing crews working the waters around Newfoundland. Archaeologists had noticed that sixteenth-century Native American sites were strewn with iron bolts and metal pins. Only later, upon reading Nicolas Denys’s 1672 account of seventeenth-century European settlements in North America, did archaeologists realize that sixteenth-century European fishing crews had dismantled and exchanged parts of their ships for furs.
By the time Europeans sailing the Atlantic coast of North America first documented the fur trade, it was apparently well underway. The first to record such trade—the captain of a Portuguese vessel sailing from Newfoundland in 1501—observed that a Native American aboard the ship wore Venetian silver earrings. Another early chronicler noted in 1524 that Native Americans living along the coast of what is now New England had become selective about European trade goods: they accepted only knives, fishhooks, and sharp metal. By the time Cartier sailed the Saint Lawrence River ten years later, Native Americans had traded with Europeans for more than thirty years, perhaps half a century.